With the West Ham match looming around the corner I thought it be a good time to write some form of season preview. Well I say season preview but that sounds a little too fancy for what I had in mind so instead I offer just a few thoughts on certain areas of the squad before the season kicks off in anger.
The first thing that I find so striking is the difference in belief from not only our fans but from fans of other clubs also. There is a real feeling that Arsenal will do well and that everyone expects something from us. From a personnel perspective, we have lost more first team squad members than we've gained, with the only first team addition being Chelsea's greatest ever keeper. We sold Podolski and have players on loan such as Sanogo, Campbell, Akpom and others.
So why such optimism?
I think the reason for this is that you can pretty much take a knife and cut aside the bad part of the footballing cake which counts for the first part of last season while the remainder of the cake for the most part was pretty bloody delicious if you ask me. Ok apart from the French Monaco flavouring that was sprinkled in.
It is why, in my opinion it is somewhat foolhardy to base our title chances purely on the points during the entirety of last season, there was quite clearly a point where we clicked into gear as well as key personnel returning to the team. I am guessing and rather hoping that the displays of the second half of the season will be closer to what we can expect of the team from the start of this new season.
For all the exciting attacking players we have at our disposal, I am actually quite excited about how we will do defensively. Petr Cech will not only bring experience but a willingness to keep clean sheets. Hector Bellerin aside, we have plenty of experienced defenders at the back. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have a wonderful partnership together and if those two can stay fit for 70%+ of the season then those two along with Cech behind them can provide a terrific spine for the team at the heart of the defence, not to mention the tenacious defensive midfielder Coquelin or even further more experience in Arteta when called upon.
What is just as interesting as the personnel themselves is how the team will play as a collective. In many of the pre season matches we pressed intensely and transitioned quickly going forward. Iwobi's goal against Lyon providing the best example of that. But we are not a one trick defensive unit as we showed expertly against Chelsea after taking the lead. We defended our box fantastically well so it is intriguing to see how often we switch between the two styles and if we will do so within matches.
I also wonder how long Calum Chambers and Gabriel will be kicking their heals on the bench. Arsène is very keen on partnerships developing together, especially at the back but surely a player of Gabriel's quality will not be sitting around waiting for the odd cup match while Chambers will want/need games in order to develop into the player we hope he will become. I could see both players looking at home in the Arsenal jersey for many years to come.
Hopefully Arsène gets the choice as often as possible rather than injury forcing the managers hand.
Of the teams weak points last season and even this pre season against VfL Wolfsburg was playing against teams who are good at pressing high up the pitch. Our game is largely dependant on how we build up from the back. Borussia Dortmund away was arguably our worst display of the season. The Germans were relentless in their attempts to stop us playing and we could barely string 3 passes together. Against Liverpool at Anfield we may have won the game but for a late equaliser but our performance was way below our high standards as the Scousers out numbered us in midfield and disrupted our passing with yet more intensive pressing. Santi Cazorla was the only positive from that display, largely because of his incredible feet in small spaces.
Are there enough teams in the Premier League who play this way for us to have worked on it enough? I don't know. The proof will be in the pudding so we will see how we get on when faced with those situations.
Possibly the most important component in a title challenge will be injuries and that hasn't exactly got off to a flyer with news of Wilshere's hairline fracture, but impact injuries happen and those cannot be avoided. It is the pulls and strains that we are looking to improve upon, the signs were positive during the second half of the season. Only time will tell whether or not our injury improvements are here to stay.
Incredibly we have never witnessed Theo Walcott and Mesut Özil have a sustained run in the team together, those two seem made for each other. Fingers crossed Theo like other important members of our team can avoid time on the treatment table, that right there will probably be the biggest decider when it comes to our title credentials.
There still seems to be a question mark surrounding the strikers, at least from how I see things. Theo Walcott ended last season and started this as our centre forward but for me he still looks like a goalscoring wide player played in the centre, rather than a centre forward. When Giroud is not in the team we miss his physical strength, ability to connect the players around him and having a player to keep the ball when we need to play longer but without Theo Walcott we miss movement, pace and instinctive finishing. Whatever the preference, I feel something is missing from our attack.
So with that in mind, I would be up for us bringing in a player who has a combination of both. It could be Danny Welbeck in time but I am not sure he has the end product at this moment in time to push himself ahead of others. The difficult part is finding and buying a player who is of the requisite level.
We look well equipped for a good season and hopefully a title chasing one, fingers crossed we can make a good start later today.